An Examination of David Gleicher's Lifeboat Launch Sequence

By Bill Wormstedt, Tad Fitch and George Behe,
with contributions by Sam Halpern and J. Kent Layton 

For a diagram of the boat deck of the Titanic, click here

David Gleicher published his book, The Rescue of the Third Class on the Titanic: A Revisionist History in 2006. This book discusses the treatment of the Third Class passengers on the Titanic in depth, but also includes a lifeboat launching timeline. This launch timeline is the subject of this article, not Gleicher's viewpoints on the Third Class. We will be pointing out many of the flaws of this timeline - where it disagrees with evidence, and where it makes large suppositions regarding what happened that night. We will also be addressing his comments and criticisms of our own timeline, which was first published in the Titanic Commutator in 2001, and published online in a greatly expanded and revised version in 2009. Since Gleicher calls our own timeline the "Wormstedt, Behe and Fitch" timeline (after the authors), we will continue that usage, but abbreviate it as the WBF timeline. Our 2009 revised and expanded timeline contains the same sequence of lifeboats we specified in 2001, although some of the launch times on the after boats were revised to reflect additional eyewitness evidence and new understandings of events on the Titanic.

Some initial comments on Gleicher's methodology and standards need to be mentioned, as these affect many of his statements on the launch sequence.

Gleicher freely admits to restricting his research to testimony given during the American and British Inquiries of 1912, and also to the books of Archibald Gracie and Lawrence Beesley, which were published shortly after the disaster. In fact, his exact words regarding this are as follows: "As you know I think-with the qualified exception of the works of Gracie and Beesley-I reach my conclusions only based on testimony at the official inquiries." He rejects all other eyewitness statements out-of-hand without even acknowledging that they exist.

The present authors believe this is a very short-sighted approach - one which prevents Gleicher from being able to present an accurate and full-picture of the events during the sinking.  This is because it fails to take into account literally dozens of eyewitness statements and the details they provide into account. Personal letters, privately published survivor accounts, testimony at the Limitation of Liability hearings of 1913-1916, and even contemporary newspaper accounts all contain valuable information that allows us to get a much more complete picture of the events that happened the night Titanic sank. Of course, in utilizing these sources, care must be taken to see how they relate to other proven accounts, that they are not a story invented in the yellow press, that statements are not being taken out of context, etc.

In an exception to his own stated policy, Gleicher *does* use several footnotes to reference material on Encyclopedia Titanica (ET), although he does not specifically say where in ET these references come from. This makes most of his footnotes of limited value, as a conscientious researcher cannot use them to find the reference indicated in order to ensure it is being quoted or interpreted accurately.

In almost all cases, Gleicher insists that any reference to the "Chief Officer" must refer to Henry Wilde, who was appointed the CO of the Titanic just for the maiden voyage. This assignment led to William Murdoch being temporarily demoted to First Officer and Charles Lightoller being temporarily demoted to Second Officer. Gleicher insists that the title "Chief Officer" refers to Wilde even when someone specifically refers to the CO by name - such as "Chief Officer Murdoch". For example, even though Seamen Buley and Evans call Murdoch the CO, Gleicher insists they must have meant Wilde1 .

The present authors believe that this is a dangerous rule to apply to all such testimony.  It would seem logical that non-specific references to the Chief Officer can refer either to Murdoch or Wilde, and further searching of the evidence is needed before one can determine which is the case. We believe that "Chief Officer Murdoch" in all probability refers to Murdoch, not Wilde, since Murdoch's name is specifically mentioned.

The present authors also believe that Murdoch was still wearing his CO stripes during this maiden voyage, even though he had been temporarily knocked down to First Officer for that trip. We do not have any definitive proof of this, but there are two strong points to consider: First, would Murdoch have changed the stripes on his uniform for just a single voyage? Probably not. Second, and more persuasive, is the existence of a photograph of both Murdoch and Lightoller taken at Queenstown on April 11, 1912, the second day of the voyage, while passengers were being transferred between the tender and the Titanic. Murdoch's stripes are not visible in the picture. However, Lightoller's are, and he has two stripes on his sleeves, indicating the rank of First Officer. Like Murdoch, he had been temporarily bumped down in rank, but was still wearing his original rank's stripes.

We believe Murdoch would likely have done the same, and not changed his stripes to suit his temporary station. Also, since Murdoch did serve as the Chief Officer on the trip from Belfast to Southampton, the crew would be familiar with Murdoch as the Chief. These points would all easily explain why Murdoch was commonly mistaken for the Chief Officer, but it does complicate the issue when an eyewitness says they saw the "Chief Officer", with no name specified. That could mean either Murdoch or Wilde, and further examination of the testimony and/or other evidence is needed to determine which is true.

Gleicher also prefers to believe that when someone says they "lowered" a lifeboat, it usually means that they swung it out and lowered it level with the deck, not that they lowered it to the water. We believe that the testimony must be individually examined to see what the eyewitness meant.

One more item must be discussed before examining Gleicher's timeline - how long it takes to get a lifeboat ready, swung out, loaded with passengers, and lowered to the ocean. Gleicher insists that this process could be completed in as little as 10 minutes.

But according to Lightoller2:

Well, it would take us from 15 minutes to 20 minutes to uncover No. 4; then to coil the falls down, then to swing out and lower it down to A deck would take another six or seven minutes at least.
Boat #4 was the exact same size as the other wooden lifeboats, except for #1 and #2, which were slightly smaller, so what Lightoller said for #4 would hold true for these other lifeboats as well. His estimate is that it took between 15 to 20 minutes for uncovering, plus an additional 6 or 7 minutes to get the falls out and lower it to A Deck for a total preparation time for loading of 20-27 minutes. Lightoller's estimate does not include the time needed to load a lifeboat with passengers.

Lowe's estimate3 was slightly different:

Senator SMITH. Did it take 20 minutes; or approximately how long? Mr. LOWE. Yes; I should say, from the start to finish of putting a boat over, until you get her into the water, it will take you somewhere about 20 minutes.

Lowe is not clear as to whether he is including the time it took to uncover the lifeboat, before attaching it to the falls and lowering it level with to the deck. If Lowe was not including the time for these necessary actions, than that would account for the difference in Lightoller and his estimates. While the exact number of minutes is open to interpretation, what is clear is that both officers said the lifeboat preparation and loading would take upwards of 20 minutes.

Lowe also said4 :

(Mr. Harbinson.) Did it take half an hour to launch these boats? - I do not know. It was not the launching of the boats that took the time. We got the whole boat out and in the water in less than ten minutes. It was getting the people together that took the time.

Note that in this last testimony, Lowe is *not* saying that the entire preparation, loading, and lowering of a boat could be done in 10 minutes as Gleicher alleges. It is quite clear that Lowe was saying that the time it would take to swing out a lifeboat and lower it down to the water would be about 10 minutes. He excluded the time required to gather the passengers and *load* it, which is what he was saying took the additional time.

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1. Amer. 675, Amer. 604
2. Br. 13855
3. Amer. 406
4. Br. 15931